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The Debt

Chapter Text

The war wasn’t over.

To the soldier that was what had bothered him most. Waking to the sound of birds outside his window rather than the sound of his commander shouting for him to get dressed. He would be told later just how odd that was. Noticing the silence before anything else- Not the searing pain in his missing limb nor the feeling of being unable to take in a full breath. Not even the blue eyes of his brother in arms at his bedside. It was too… quiet.

That would bother him for days afterwards. And seemingly it would bother him for the rest of his life. That he would get out of that hell with his honour still intact but leave those who he cared about behind as he had. knowing any of them would trade places with him if they had the chance. Sure he had lost a limb in the process, but he was alive. And he was home. He got to return home alive.

His sister was thrilled to see him. That much he was grateful for. The way she threw her arms around him before he even had a chance to reach the front door. Still dressed in uniform he could feel the way her slim arms circled his waist. How much higher they were on him since last he had been there. How all he could say to her was ‘You better stop growing, you're not allowed to be taller than me’. His mother- the tears in her eyes as she couldn’t step past the front porch at the sight of his empty sleeve. Worried that if she got too close then the rest of him would dissolve and there would be nothing to hold but an empty uniform. Then his father greeted him with a firm hand on his still good shoulder. The other gripped his cane as he simply said. ‘It was getting hard being the only man of the house.’

If asked to this day why those words disturbed him as much as they did- he wouldn’t be able to answer completely. There was pride in his father’s eyes. Looking upon his son that had sacrificed so much. But it felt like an end to something. For him- at least- his serving days were over. 

But the war wasn’t.

That morning it bothered him all the same. Waking before the sun had risen he caught a glimpse of the street lights shining into his room and across his ceiling. Over a coat he had hanging on his door, he lay quietly. Some cars buzzed past in all their noisy glory. Women most likely on their way to the early morning post office to print that day’s newspapers. Others perhaps to bake the morning bread at the bakery. Have it warm and ready when mothers would drop in during daily grocery and slip it into their bags. A comfort as he knew there were some that hadn’t the motivation to bake their own as they were sick with worry about their sons… their husbands.

He lay there sondering for a moment about who drove those vehicles. What they might be thinking or- where they were going. All the while a hand absentmindedly traced the frame of his bed beneath his fingers.

It wasn't long before just laying there made him uneasy and he threw his feet over the edge of the bed. Bare to the chill air of the autumn- reaching for a pair of socks that sat at his bedside table.

Getting dressed on his own took time. Especially now that he was home for a while. Before he had nurses who helped him into hospital drapes. And the day he had returned home Steve had helped him into his uniform.. Making sure every corner was folded perfectly.

But now- his uniform sat on a shelf in his wardrobe- and here he sat struggling to tie his shoes. Frustration biting at the back of his mind as he attempted a task that came so easily before. But now it seemed impossible. Becca, of course, would help him most days that she caught him trying to go out the door without tying his shoes. but others he would walk the street with loose laces.

That morning he simply settled on tucking the shoelaces under the lip, pulling on his coat and heading out into the street. It wouldn't be as if anyone would notice his shoes- should he run into anyone this early in the morning. They had other things to focus on. Like- perhaps his overgrown hair. Refusing to let his mother cut it after his few months in the hospital recovering. Or maybe the distant look he had in his eyes every time someone tried to talk to him. Not wanting to answer anyone's questions and wishing to disappear into the background. Or- the empty sleeve.

Because yeah… that was a little hard to miss.

The chill of the autumn morning didn’t take long to nip at his face as he stepped into a strong gust of wind. It was refreshing- but also a mere reminder that soon he’ll have to wrestle with a scarf over his face. and the laces of boots unless he wants them filled with snow come mid- winter.

But these things he ignored. Making his way from the small porch and down the street. Lost in the silence of morning with all but the sound of the occasional vehicle making its way.

The sun was rising ever so slowly. Though the sky hadn’t changed colour- there was the sound of birds as the slightest bit of shine took to the sky. And he just kept walking. His flesh hand slipping into the pocket of his coat- slipping over the old metal of coins. Caching two between fingers and rubbing them together.

Mentally he counted them. There should be enough for a fresh loaf of bread from one of those bakeries- come to think of it. And perhaps it was a good idea for him to get one as it would save him having to think of an excuse to come back home to his worrying mother.

So on he walked with more of a purpose in mind. The sun rose and soon enough it was bright enough that people began to find their way into the streets. Brooklyn was getting just a little more exciting. But not overly busy as he found himself still enjoying a morning walk alone. Mind going to the bread he hoped to buy- before he was drawn out of his bubble by nearly stepping directly into the chest of a man- halting immediately.

“I’m so sorry-” The other started apologizing immediately- hand out to be sure the two of them didn’t slam into one another. Though- that wasn’t the first thing that the soldier took notice of.

The man was tall . And he had to resist muttering the thought of ‘did I shrink?’ aloud. Which- of course was just ridiculous. He was blond. Light hair and slight tan to his skin- and the bluest eyes he had seen- albeit himself in the mirror- glanced at him with concern. 

“I really need to watch where I’m going- “ and there was the second thing he noticed. The man’s accent. Though not as obvious he had to have been from somewhere in Europe? At a time like this he knew that most men his age would have been drafted on that side of the world- unless he had come over before the war. Which- in that case certain people did get out of being drafted.

“It’s fine,” was all he said in response. The man took a moment to raise his attention to the other as his lips pressed together in a straight line. Only to ask him to repeat what he had said.

“I said it’s alright. You seem a bit in a rush though.”

“Oh- Yeah- I just got in the area I have a few of these I need to put up-“

A piece of paper was shoved into his hands- and his gaze fell down to it. Not much was written on the page but he could still feel the warmth of fresh ink on the page. The man most likely having just come from the printing office- as bold styled letters stared right back- reading;







  ALL      ARE     WELCOME


Admittedly he was unsure truly what he was reading. As a child a circus would have excited him. The idea of eating candy floss while watching a show of talent and wonder it was - a comforting memory. All aside though- a circus would explain why the man had such a strange sounding accent.

For a moment he wondered if the ‘all are welcome’ had been an attempt to express what wasn’t expressed often during these times. That meaning- the soldier wouldn’t be turned down at the door the moment his identification was given. A blight he had faced during his time in Europe more than in New York- though- as the times progressed he had returned to see that he and his family were rejected more often when on outings.

But that thought was set aside as he returned his gaze back up to the man- eyes watching him glance over the page with unsaid expectation. “ You’re welcome to take that with you. You might enjoy the show~”

“My sister would probably like this- “ he admitted- knee raising as the sheet was clumsily laid down with his poor attempt at trying to fold it. The other watching but not mentioning anything-

Which was honestly to his relief.

“Well how about you?”

The paper soon carded in the back pocket of his pants- he glanced at the man. Only shrugging a moment in thought as eyes moved to a couple out for a morning stroll- pushing ahead of them a small baby carriage. The man in a wheelchair- and the woman at his side.

“Ah- I’m not a kid anymore. I wouldn’t find it entertaining…”

“Hey, if you find the idea of seeing me in a suit so skin-tight the entire audience knows my penis size - fold myself in half and shoot an arrow with my feet- I’d say it’s entertaining.”

He paused for a moment. Head raising as eyes narrows to the man before him. How easily he said what he had shocked him just a bit. But he didn’t see any shame on the man’s face. If anything it was the grin that set him at ease- eyes glancing over him a moment, tongue-in-cheek before his head shook.

“What did you say your name was?”

The man thought for a moment. The grin slowly fading from nothing as his eyes flickered to his mouth- then back to his eyes. Which- it wasn’t really until that moment that he even noticed that the man did that a lot… and if he was being honest with himself it didn’t bother him as much as it should have.

“Ah- Clint. I don’t think we introduced ourselves,” the man replied. Hand extended towards the soldier with an open palm- him taking it gladly and shaking it.

“Maybe not. I’m James- but everyone calls me Bucky.”

“Well, James-but-everyone-calls-you-Bucky. It’s been nice running into you this morning. I would really like to see you tonight, though,” Clint said- offering a wink.

Bucky for a moment nodded- clearing his throat. He hated the feeling of being put on the spot like that but he did manage to offer a ‘maybe-‘ before Clint was on his way. Leaving Bucky confused.

That had been the longest conversation he’s had with someone who wasn’t his family or Steve since returning. And the word penis was involved. Whoever this Clint person was, his mother at some point or another was going to squeeze the conversation out of Bucky. If not for the simple joy that her precious baby boy was opening up again.

But for now he didn’t think too much of it- making his way to the bakery and getting the ‘excuse’ bread and heading back home. Only to be greeted by a “HE’S HOME, MOM. HE’S FINE!” Followed by the distressed sound of his mother on the phone assuring whoever was on the other end that he was back. And thanking them- before making her way to the door.

“James Buchanan Barnes you had me worried-! Your sheets were cold. How long have you been out? Your shoes aren’t even tied. Oh, James…”

He had to physically refrain from rolling his eyes the moment her hand touched his cheek. The paper bag for the bed crinkled as he moved. Kicking off his shoes and extending the bread to her- pulling away from the touch so he could remove his coat.

“I’m fine, Mom. I woke up early and thought I’d get us some bread,” he explained. The bread excuse worked perfectly as she simply clicked her tongue. Pulling open the top of the bag to look inside. Bucky added, “I hope you didn’t have breakfast without me,” to the end. Just to be rid of any lingering worries.

“No, honey. I was too worried you had run off somewhere. Your father is already gone- so I called Steve, hoping you had gone to see him. Poor boy was worried just as I was.”

Poor boy indeed- Bucky thought to himself. Making his way to the kitchen. Relieved to see that amidst all the ‘chaos’ someone had at least put the coffee on.

“Don’t drink all the coffee, James. Steve’s on his way over.”

“You invited him over!?”

“He asked-! Poor boy is only on temporary leave here and in that apartment all on his own. Probably hasn’t had a nice family breakfast in a while. Nor has he seen you since dropping you off here!”

“I’m sure he’s fine, Mom.”

“Quiet. He’s worried about you, James. Let the young man see you at least.”

An exhale. And Bucky was reaching for the bigger cup. Knowing he was probably going to need it (if not with a shot of baileys).

It wasn’t too long before there was a knock at the door. Becca appeared from around the corner and rushed to the door. Opening to reveal Steve there. In all his glory dressed in uniform. Which- notably was one of the main reasons Bucky was always hesitant to see him.

The explosion that had cost Bucky his arm had sent glass towards Steve. Stationed not too far from him. Though not permanent damage that would render Steve unable to serve any longer. It was a relief that he got a temporary leave to recover. Yet- Steve would wake daily. Make his bed. And put on that damn uniform even if it wasn’t necessary while he was home. He was still serving in his mind. And Bucky was trying desperately to push the thought aside that his friends would be out in the fields today. Risking their lives while he had coffee in his own home.

But all that aside… he ended up greeting Steve with a mock salute and a soft ‘captain’. Holding up the coffee pot in offering.

“Sergeant,” Steve replied- stepping in and giving Becca the side hug she had been looking for. “Glad to see you’re in one piece, Bucky. Your mom was pretty worried this morning,” he scolded. Giving the woman a hug as he said it. Having to bend over so she could wrap both arms over his shoulders in greeting.

“So I’ve heard,” Bucky’s reply came. A second cup of coffee set down at the spare place on the table with a soft ‘thud’ as Steve took his seat. Ms. Barnes finding her way to the stove and starting on breakfast.

“Well she did wake up to your bed just empty, Bucky. That’s new.”

“Shouldn’t you be glad I’m at least getting out of the house?”

“Getting out of the house is different than disappearing on us, James. You know what we mean,” his mother chimed in. Spatula waved in his direction before being set down so she could grab a knife and cut open the bread. “We mean to socialize. Start talking to people. I get so many women bringing meals to our door just so they can ask about you. I don’t mind answering for you- but I can’t do that forever, James.”

He was unable to resist the eye roll then. Looking at Steve with a ‘help me’ glance before he turned in his chair to face his mother.

“If I remember correctly you threw out that lasagna from Ms.Wilson.”

“It had beef and cheese- look,” the knife was set down. Body turning to face the pair who sat at the table as her arms folded over the blue apron she wore. “I’m your mother. It’s my job to worry and too many nights I’ve had to come to your room because you’ve woken up screaming. And Steve, honey you can’t convince me you don’t have those nights too. I’m just saying maybe finding other things to fill your day would give your mind something else to think about? Go see a movie, the two of you. Or go dancing. Meet a nice lady.”

“Dancing is a bit difficult with only one arm. Can’t say it’s easy to woo a girl with a flaccid sleeve.”


The snort from Steve made Bucky a little more relaxed. Easing into his seat as he sipped on his coffee. His mother started to complain in Yiddish under her breath.

Steve and him exchanged a couple glances- that was until Steve took a deep inhale. “Actually. I do have an idea of what we can do to ease your conscience, just a bit, Ms. Barnes.”

Cracking an egg she simply hummed in reply- brow raised and glancing back. “What did you have in mind?”

“There’s a circus in town for the next few weeks. Maybe Bucky and I could go with Becca.”

The response from Bucky was immediate. Before anyone could come to a decision. 


“Why not, James? It sounds like fun.”

“I’m not a kid anymore-!” And the last thing he wanted was to be recognized by Mr. Tall, Blonde and Gorgeous. That had made him envision him in a skin tight suit shooting arrows with his toes.

“Oh, James, don't be dramatic. You’re never too old for the circus. What time is the show?”

Steve had to think for a moment- tongue clicking as he tried to recall. “I’m not sure-“

“Seven. Tonight…” Bucky replied for him. Leaning back and taking a sip from his coffee. “I ran into one of the performers this morning on my walk. He sounded foreign. European almost. Which is all the more reason probably not to go.”

Steve simply frowned. Looking at Bucky with a gaze that was all too telling. Before Bucky exhaled. “I’m just saying what circus comes from overseas during a war, Steve? Other than to A: escape the drafting, or B: something fishy is happening there.”

“Or, maybe the guy you met just so happens to be foreign. You know my parents had their accents. Coming from Ireland wasn’t easy. This guy probably was just desperate for work,” Steve sounds nearly scolding. And to be fair he’s probably right in that. Bucky’s hesitance wasn’t misplaced. Considering trying to navigate what was better known as Europe as a Jewish man there was a dislike from both ends. Simply because of uncertainty in the responses he would get. And those who just simply didn’t like him .

But Steve knew first hand the struggles of coming from anywhere. And Bucky- for a moment feels bad that he wasn’t careful with his words. Just for a moment before a sigh escaped him.

“Fine. Becca- you want to see a circus?”